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Questions raised about puppy mill practices, Toledo pet store

A Toledo-area pet store has been receiving controversy from an animal-rights group who claims the store gets its dogs from substandard puppy mills.

The Family Puppy, the seller in question, is a family-owned pet store based out of Michigan. It specializes in selling dogs, and it recently opened a store at Franklin Park Mall in Toledo.

Pam Sordyl, who started Puppy Mill Awareness of Southeast Michigan, started a campaign against The Family Puppy after a location opened in her hometown of Flint, Mich.

“We didn’t want a new puppy store when we’re trying to shut them down,” Sordyl said.

John Stottele, owner of The Family Puppy, said his breeders are regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture in accordance with the Animal Welfare Act.

Tanya Espinosa, a Public Affairs Specialist with the USDA, said breeders who have at least five breeding females and sell the offspring to buyers, who don’t see the breeding facility, are required to get a sellers’ license which makes them subject to USDA inspection.

Stottele said he picks his breeders carefully.

“We decided we needed to go on a hunt for better breeders,” Stottele said. “We wanted to go see and find the best of the best.”

Stottele said he eventually came upon around 20 Amish breeders in Northern Indiana, five of whom he chose to work with. He said he then helped those five breeders improve conditions in their operations.

“We visited breeders, we helped them design their kennels,” Stottele said. “We helped them learn how to care for the dogs in the very best way.”

A blog made by Sordyl claims 14 of The Family Puppy’s 16 primary breeders have had violations of the Animal Welfare Act in the past few years.

Stottele said the violations animal activists cite are “indirect violations,” rather than direct violations. Espinosa said indirect violations deal with maintenance of the breeding facility itself, as well as minor animal welfare problems, such as an animal that has not seen a veterinarian in a certain amount of time, or that does not have updated paperwork. Direct violations deal with problems that are directly affecting an animal’s well-being.

Sordyl said a seller should not receive dogs from a breeder that has any violations.

“I feel that [a] store shouldn’t have any violations of care,” Sordyl said. “Direct or indirect.”

When asked for the names of his breeders, Stottele declined, citing a desire to protect the privacy of his breeders from media attention.

Sordyl said it is the lack of transparency that makes her wary.

“The important thing is, if families cannot see the parents, they shouldn’t buy the dog,” Sordyl said. “You could be contributing to animal cruelty.”

Freshman Alex Ryan shares Sordyl’s wariness, and said she would rather get a puppy from a shelter, and would be nervous about getting a puppy from a pet store.

“No one really knows where you get the puppies from anyway,” Ryan said. “That’s why I would be nervous about it.”

Brandon Young, the manager of The Family Puppy at Franklin Park Mall, said all its puppies continually get care after they reach the store.

“We have a vet who travels to all the kennels and does things like teeth cleaning, check ups, etc.,” Young said. “We are working on [a veterinarian just for this store].”

The conditions in a store can be good, Sordyl said, but that does not mean the original source is reputable.

“It’s easy for families to go to a store and see the condition of the store is great,” Sordyl said. “But they don’t see the kennel.”

Stottele said both he and the activists have the same goal: to get rid of bad breeders.

“We’re all in this together,” Stottele said.

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